August 18, 2011

Tales of the Big Bands: Basie, Part 3

The top echelon singers loved the Basie band. Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra are among the most recognizable names that recorded with Count Basie. Basie also had the good fortune and sense to employ hip singers as part of the orchestra. You’ll recognize the names Billy Holiday, Helen Humes, Jimmy Rushing, and the subject of our final Basie blog entry, Joe Williams, Basie’s “Number One Son.”

Many of the quotes and images in this blog entry were obtained during interview sessions conducted for the purpose of creating a 1996 documentary on Joe’s life entitled “A Portrait in Song,” which was produced by Burrill Crohn.

Joe joined the Basie band on Christmas Day in 1954. He was not a total unknown to the Count. Joe sat in a number of times with Basie’s septet at the Brass Rail in Chicago, and the Count must have heard something he liked. Basie signed Joe up when his “new testament” band came to fruition. The Joe and Basie combination was an instant success, resulting in the early 1955 release of “Count Basie Swings/Joe Williams Sings,” which contained Joe’s signature song, “Every Day I Have the Blues.” Trombonist Bill Hughes was a young man at that time and was thrilled to be a part of this ensemble.

BH: I think when [Joe] first joined this band he had performed with Basie’s sextet or something, somewhere before. Basie had heard him. I had never heard the guy until he came in and when he came in I looked at him, you know, like the pants were a little high, his wardrobe wasn’t all that great, and I was saying I wonder why Basie’s hiring this guy, until I heard him sing that night. Then I was saying I wonder what took him so long to hire this guy. And I remember I was young then and I remember walking down the streets of New York and almost every record store you’d hear this sound coming out and it would be Joe Williams singing these things. And I would be saying to myself, wow, I’m a part of this. And the band was so hot. And Basie was so hot. And every night man, it was just a joy to go and play this music. Actually I don’t think the Basie band would have survived as long as it has without Joe having been that catalyst back in 1954.

An observation often made about the Basie band is that they could sound like a small group even though it was a large ensemble. Basie must have had that in mind when he signed Joe on with no arrangements ready for him. The band was able to set riffs and create head arrangements for the first couple of weeks until things could be written down that suited Joe’s voice and unique abilities. Joe talked about those first few months in the band:

JW: We had no arrangements. None at all. We got to Jackson, Mississippi I guess it was. And they had a place they called the Two Spot. And we were there about four or five days. And I got together with Ernie Wilkins and Frank Foster and arranged “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Teach Me Tonight,” — Foster did “In the Evening,” and something else. And there was “Every Day I Fall in Love,” and something else he did. But yeah, that was ’55. And when we got back we had these things to present, plus the things they were doing that were head [arrangements], like “Roll ‘em Pete” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

It would be inevitable that Joe would be compared with Mr. Five-by-Five, Jimmy Rushing, whose fifteen year tenure with the orchestra ended in 1950. But Joe didn’t look backwards. He was confronted with the considerable shadow of Jimmy Rushing when he went to England with the band in 1957:

(The photograph of Joe and Jimmy above was taken at
the Newport Jazz Festival in 1962.)
JW: We went [to England] in 1957 and one of the critics stated at the end of his obvious critique or review, that most of the applause was given to a young singer named Joe Williams, who is no Jimmy Rushing. I said I certainly hope so. I wasn’t trying to be a Jimmy Rushing either. That’s why I fought Basie so hard, it’s that if they asked me did I know anything of Jimmy Rushing’s. I told them no, I didn’t. And I didn’t, really. It would have been simple for me to learn, I could learn his stuff in one night and perform it. But that was not the object of the exercise. I wasn’t singing 1930’s, 1940’s, or even 1950 music. I was adding things that I wanted to present, that’s all. And I’m glad it found favor, not only with the musicians but with the audiences as well. I had to fight to get him to do it. But I learned from it. He would sit, after we presented it, and it was enthusiastically received by the public, then he would look at me and go — and I gleaned what he meant, that he wouldn’t have to say anything, like if you believe in something strong enough, fight for it, even those that are closest to you. Because he was paying for the arrangements in those days.

Basie taught Joe that if he believed strongly enough in the direction he wanted to take, and if he worked for it, it would pay off in the end. Joe also learned a bit about when to get off the stage. Joe talked about a trip to Stockholm, Sweden in 1956.

JW: So Basie said to me “you’ve been killing them in the States, everybody just loves you over there.” He said “let’s see what you’re going to do now, ‘cause none of these people understand English. [There were] ten thousand people standing on their chairs and they were busy, you know, like screaming and hollering. And I said to Mr. Basie, “what are we going to do, Bas?” He says “for once you’re going to quit while you’re ahead.” I never forgot that lesson, man.

Another musical lesson from Basie offered a poignant description of Basie’s character:

JW: As a leader, I watched and observed [Basie]. He never saw mistakes. Those of us who knew, it was like, gee that wasn’t what we do 98 times out of a hundred. That was an accident. And so instead of looking where it came from, he’d always happen to be looking someplace else. Somebody over there you know. He missed it. He never heard it. He did something marvelously unusual. [When a musician did something that pleased him] he would go light up like a Christmas tree. What I learned from him was that when you were working with first class musicians particularly, or any musician for that matter, you live with what they contribute. You don’t have to give them direction necessarily or anything. Let them find their own level of what goes in support of what, according to their own depth and perception. You have to. And that way you get an unusual presentation and one that is always fresh and refreshing to you. You don’t get tired.

Considering all the young men who passed through Count Basie’s orchestra, Joe must have been very special to earn the moniker “Basie’s Number One Son.” When Joe decided it was time to move on and leave the band, in 1961, the Count attended Joe’s first gig with the Sweets Edison quintet.

While great singers all love performing in front of stellar bands, the feeling is not always mutual. Vocalists, by their very presence on stage, move the spotlight off the instrumentalists. A singer needed to earn his/her respect with the band both musically and from their personal character. Many musicians spoke of Joe’s musical talent — his ability to sing blues, ballads and anything in between in any key. The second part of the equation was addressed by baritone saxophonist John Williams, who crossed paths with Joe during the singer’s many appearances with the Basie orchestra in the 1970’s:

JW: Well in reference to being a singer I always like to say that if Joe Williams isn’t the greatest singer in the world, there’s none greater. And in reference to being a human being, I think that one of the greatest attributes that a human being could have is good manners. And this is the one thing that I noticed about him that made him sort of, I mean set him apart from many of the other performers with whom I’ve worked. And Basie used to say “God doesn’t like ugly,” in reference to people who are ill-mannered. And I could see why he was proud to call Joe his Number One Son because Joe always, from the moment I met him, was a person who had very good manners. And it starts with self-respect. He had self-respect so it was very easy for him to show us respect. And I just didn’t feel like a lowly baritone player who had very few solos to play, just an ensemble player, a guy supporting the front line. I felt just as important in Joe’s presence as one of the featured musicians. So anyway, good manners was the thing that really caught my attention.

Joe’s respect for other performers included fellow singers as well. In the concert documentary mentioned above, Joe performed live at Hamilton College, with the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Grover Mitchell. He surprised the producer and production staff when on his first song (“Every Day I Have the Blues,” his signature tune), he invited Chris Murrell, the then-current Basie vocalist, to join him on stage and trade verses. After the concert we asked both Bill Hughes and Joe himself why he chose this moment to spotlight another singer.

BH: Yeah, he invited Chris. He’s very generous with the microphone. But most of the great jazz singers I’ve ever seen have been generous with the microphone. They are eager to have their fellow artists come up and show what they can do.

JW: I vowed within myself that if ever I found someone who wanted that microphone as badly as I wanted it, then I would share it with them. My manager John [Levy] used to give me hell about it because he says you share your space and your time with the musicians and you’ll have people say “wow!” and you say “put the spotlight on somebody else.” He said “then you have to go back and grab them again.” Well I feel as though I can. I can afford to present someone. Because I don’t have to stand there and have them keep that spotlight on me.

The Jazz Archive continues to acquire interviews. In July of 2011 we visited Iola Brubeck, wife of Dave Brubeck, and she reminisced about Count Basie and Joe Williams.

IB: I should have brought this up when we were talking about the idea for The Real Ambassadors because Joe Williams was a part of that. That summer I was in New York and I went to Central Park and Joe Williams was with the Basie band, and he was just so great. And the night before I had gone to a Broadway musical. And I said to myself Joe Williams said more and reached me more emotionally with the Basie band that night than that big production I’d seen the night before. And that was one of the reasons why I started thinking in terms of a Broadway show.

MR: He was a big help to us getting this started.

IB: That’s what I understand. Well I loved Joe Williams. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. He was another example of a black man who, right at the height of the sort of division that was going on in jazz was not effected by that. And I can remember in Europe one time, Joe and some other musicians were sitting outside a hotel in the summertime, on a sort of patio, and our car pulled up and Dave and I got out of the van and Joe got up from where he was sitting with the other musicians and came over and they embraced, he gave Dave a hug and so forth. And it was just kind of a way of him saying “cool it guys.”

Joe left Basie in the early sixties and went on to a successful solo career lasting over three decades. In 1995 when the Hamilton College Jazz Archive was founded we were fortunate to have Joe lend his credibility and his name as we contacted musicians to request interviews. He passed three years later. The College recognized his contribution by designating my position the Joe Williams Director of the Hamilton College Jazz Archive.

The Count Basie Orchestra swings on, and its succession of leaders all played in the orchestra when The Count was at the helm. Its current conductor is drummer Dennis Mackrel.

August 7, 2011

Tales of the Big Bands: Basie, Part 2

In Basie, Part 1 we listened to musicians speak about the magic of the Count Basie sound. The day-to-day stories of sidemen also yield an inside look at the trials and tribulations of playing in a touring band. Let’s return to bassist Jimmy Lewis, who offered us his view on the Basie swing machine in Part 1.

When musicians recall bad or difficult gigs, it is rarely about the music, but more often about logistics. Jimmy offered up a memorable story about getting to one of those out-of-the-way gigs.

MR: Let me ask you about a little thing. You had a story about flying with Basie?

JL: Yeah, you know we had some Army camps to do. We had to ride in the Army planes, the ones with two tails and that big thing in the middle. So one day we got on this thing going to one of the camps, and it was noisy, this thing was so noisy you couldn’t hear. Now Billy Eckstine and all those guys were used to riding. But me, I was scared to death. We all had parachutes. Basie had on a parachute over by the door you know. So we were going to Corpus Christi, Texas. So the plane took off, but before we got there, something happened just before we got ready to land. They couldn’t get the landing gear down. So the guy kept punching it in back, there was some long pole they couldn’t get it down. So the man said “we’re going to have to circle around and go further, and come back around again.” So they went around, and started back to see if we could land, and still couldn’t get it open. So one of the guys, the one who was right by the back door here, pulled that big door open. Now we were flying. So I said “what’s this — what are you doing?” The guy said “well see, we’re trying to get a little more air in the plane.” I said “air in the plane!” I said “man, we don’t need no more air.” So he said “well, I’ll tell you, we’re having a problem with the landing gear, and you might have to bail out.” And Basie looked at me. He said “what do you mean bail out?” And so he asked the pilot, he said “look, are you going to bail out too?” The pilot said “no, I’ve got to stay with the plane.” Basie said “well I’m going to stay with you,” he said, “I’m going on with you. Because if I jump out and I pull this string and the ‘chute don’t open up, man, I can’t fly — I don’t have no wings.” Well everybody was laughing. And so Billy teased me, he said “man, we’re going to crash” — oh baby, I don’t know what to do. And I’m running back and forth. It’s funny, you know I’d never been in a plane before anyway.

MR: Something finally happened because you’re here with us.

JL: So we get to Corpus Christi, Texas. Now, so finally we land. Everybody set there about fifteen minutes before they got out of the plane. It was quiet — boy you could hear a mouse — quiet you know. So everybody started getting out one by one, taking off the parachute, taking their instruments and go outside. We got outside, and we had to play under some trees. We get out there, and set up under these trees out there, in the hot summertime. Oh, man, it looked like a big field. And people, as far as you could see. And they had all these big speakers about like that. So they set the band stand up, all the band stands, they put the music, you know the fella he’d taken care of all that. And so then Basie went up to test the piano to see if it was in tune you know. So then he called us, his band. We got up there and Basie was telling about this trip, how much trouble we had with the plane and all that. So the people settled down. We started playing. As soon as we started playing, all these little chrysalis come out of the tree and started falling on the bandstand. And it’s falling in the bell of the horns, and the guys would dump it out and keep playing. I got me some string, tying it all around my pants legs you know, in case they would crawl up my leg. And so when we finished the job, now we’ve got to take this same plane and go to California. So me and Wendell Cully, we walked out to the plane and looked in, and we see all these parachutes on the seats, and Cully said, “they look like dead people, man.” He said “we can’t take this thing, can we?” I said “no.” So I said well let’s go tell Basie we don’t think we’re going to go on this. So we went and told Basie and he said “I don’t blame you, but,” he said “I’ve got to stay with the band and so you go ahead and see if you can get a train out, and meet us in California.” So we did. We got a train. We got to California three days later. And I think we missed one gig. But we got to the gig and we played and everything. So we asked Basie, “how was the trip?” He said “man that was the worst trip I ever had.”

Travel was not the only daily challenge. Road bands, especially the black bands, often times had to settle for less-than-optimal accommodations. Musicians always shared rooms, in some cases even the boss had to share a room with one of the sidemen. Clark Terry, who is always good for an inside story, shared this anecdote with his friend Joe Williams about rooming with the Count:

CT: I have to tell you my favorite Basie story.

JW: Yeah, yeah.

CT: Yeah you know what am I telling you? Well we’re playing Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and this was during a period when we were not allowed to stay in the big hotel, we were relegated to the homes of Miss Brown, Miss Jones, Miss Green and so forth.

JW: Oh, those were the good old days. “Have you had your breakfast?” “No, M’am.”

CT: So we were in Miss Green’s or Brown’s or somebody’s home, and she said “well I’ve got one room left and I’ve got two beds in it, and one is a big bed and one is a little bed, and I can take two of ‘em.” So Basie and I are the only two left. So I’m going there with Basie, and the big bed is in the middle of the room, a huge bed and he’s got that. And my bed is a little slab up against the wall. So I said okay, it’s beautiful. At least it’s some place to sleep other than the basement of the police station. So here we are, now Basie can’t get to sleep with the light out.

JW: I know, yeah.

CT: He had to have that light on. And he had to read his comic book every night and he’d laugh, ah, ha, ha, ho, ha, ha. Well I couldn’t go to sleep with the light on. So I said well I know what I’ll do, I’ll just play possum and wait until I hear the comic book hit his belly. Then I’ll know he’s asleep. Well I should preface this by saying that it’s always customary for people when they go to bed we all empty our pockets on the dresser, you know, and undress and put the pajamas on and go to sleep. So I had put all my things there and Basie put all his things on the dresser. We didn’t have that far, just the little table top that we put our stuff on. So the light is right by this little table top, and so I had to get up and go over, and when I heard the book go “plop” on his belly, I eased over to the light and grabbed the chain and pulled the chain. Now the minute I pulled the chain, before I released it, he starts turning in the bed saying “put it back.” I was never sure whether he said put the lights back or whether —

JW: Oh Lord. “Put it back.”

CT: “Put it back.”

Almost without exception, Basie alums talk about the skill that the Count displayed in leading his band. While being a man of few words, his approach to hiring and maintaining his band with the members he wanted was as unique as his playing. Trombonist Benny Powell joined the newly formed Basie band after the small group experiment, and addressed Basie’s leadership personality:

BP: I joined [Basie’s] band when I was 21. I’ll tell you the essence of my experience with Basie. I don’t know if it’s the essence but it’s certainly the beginning. I was at the Apollo Theater working for a week in Joe Thomas’ band. Also in the band was Charlie Fowlkes, who had been with Basie. Basie was on a hiatus and he was about to form another band. So Charlie Fowlkes told me where the rehearsal was going to be, and invited me to the rehearsal. So I went, and it was nice. Pretty uneventful. I can’t remember — at this particular time there were a couple of jobs I wanted. The job with Charlie Ventura. Benny Green had been there and he was about to leave, so I really wanted a small situation to play in. Then I was waiting to hear from Illinois Jacquet also. In the meantime, the Basie thing comes up, I make the rehearsal and that’s fine. Charlie Fowlkes tells me when the next rehearsal is. And I come back and I make that also. I don’t know how many rehearsals we did, but pretty soon we started working, and the first date I played with Basie was October 31 I think, 1951. So I think at this time we would go out of town for maybe one night or two nights a weekend, and come back in town. Well this went on for just a little while, a couple of weeks. In the meantime, from Basie I’m trying to find out if I’m hired, if I have a job or shall I tell Illinois Jacquet that, you know, no. But there was a strange quirk about Basie. If he had something that you wanted, he would sort of play a cat and mouse with you, you know, dangle it in front of you. Anyway, he knew I wanted him to say yes, Benny, you’re hired. So the first time, well you know I was sort of in awe of him anyway. I think I was all of 21 and he was the world famous Count Basie, so I would sort of find myself next to him by my own design, and I would say “Mr. Basie, how do you like the trombone section?” He’d say “it sounds all right.” And that’s all I got out of that conversation. So maybe the next weekend I got brave enough to say “Mr. Basie, are you satisfied with the trombones?” He said “yeah, it sounds pretty good.” That’s all I got out of that one. Next time I went to him, I can’t remember, each time I would disguise it. But finally I said “Mr. Basie, what I’m trying to find out is, you know, am I hired? Am I with the band?” He said “you’re here aren’t you kid?” And every time after that for about four or five times, that’s what I’d get. “You’re here aren’t you, kid?” So finally I stopped asking him. And during the twelve years, I don’t think he ever said “yes, Benny, you’ve got a job. You’re hired.” But he was a wonderful man. I loved him. I was always in awe of older musicians.

The “old” Count Basie would have been 47 when Benny joined the band in 1951.

Benny’s best known Basie moment is his eight-bar bridge on the classic April in Paris recording, at the :50 spot.

The Basie mode of leadership should be a chapter in a book about how to be a boss. Butch Miles talked about his way of silent but positive reinforcement, and it reminds us that although the Count was a man of few words, he was not someone to be disrespected:

BM: Oh, [Basie] was wonderful. He was a wonderful boss because he never told you what to do or what to play. I asked our band manager at that time — it was Sonny Cohn — and Cup [Cohn] sat right in front of me on the band bus, and after I’d been with the band about maybe two weeks, you know I said “Sonny, you know, Basie hasn’t said anything to me about whether he wants it this way, or he doesn’t want it that way,” I said, because I’d worked with a number of other people who’d made it quite clear what they wanted and the way that they wanted it. And Basie didn’t say a word. And so Cup just looked at me, he says, “well if it’s wrong, he’ll tell you, and if it’s not, he’ll just let you go.” And that was why he had great professionals in the band who took care of the business so well, because they were professionals. Basie didn’t hire somebody that just turned 16 with an incredible reputation but couldn’t play. So one time — I can’t remember if Al [Grey] was still on the band at that point or not, but we had a trumpet problem and somebody recommended a young trumpet player from Chicago. He flew in to New York, and since we made it pretty much a point to not rehearse, there was no rehearsal again or audition, it was kind of like a closed shop. You got in on a recommendation or if Basie had heard you play himself and wanted you to come in with the band. And I can’t remember the young man’s name but he came in and he was all full of fire and brimstone. He was ready to show the world that he was like the greatest trumpet player in the world, probably like in his early twenties or something, although that doesn’t have anything to do with it. And the night of his first gig with the band he made the absolute mistake of thinking that Basie was a real cream puff and he lipped off to him. He said something sassy or nasty, right before the job. I never saw this happen before. Basie fired him, right then.

MR: The guy didn’t play a note yet?

BM: Not with the band. Basie fired him, right then, gave him his ticket home and told him good-bye. He never did play a note, not with the band. He came in all hot, you know had his hat over to the side. It didn’t work like that. The band was a very well oiled machine and it was a band, it was a big band, it was a full ensemble. Basie played the band like he played the piano. And it had to work like that. You couldn’t have eighteen or nineteen superstars up there ‘cause it never works. So the band was as a unit. And it had to be that way. Oh we had stars. We had Jimmy Forrest, we had Al Grey, we had Curtis Fuller at one point, we had Bobby Plater, Charlie Fowlkes, a great baritone saxophonist, you know, various people that passed through the band from time to time over the years. But you didn’t have anybody that ran roughshod through the band. Basie wouldn’t stand for that. He just would not. And I never saw him get mad at anybody in the band except that one time. He was a very affable, easy going, wonderful man and just marvelous to work for, but you did not sass him.

Trombonist Al Grey was nicknamed “Fab” and was thrilled to become a Basie member, but quickly became frustrated when, as the new guy, he could not get in the queue for solo space. Al spoke to my colleague Michael Woods and related a story of one of the few times that Basie stepped out of his silent mode with a fatherly gesture:

AG: [Y]ou must also remember that when I joined the band, Count Basie’s personnel had been the same for like twelve, fourteen years, same personnel. So when I joined the band, I didn’t have no name at all. I was called the “new boy” and I didn’t used to like that. And that was on me for a whole year, until the next person came into the band, and this is when I got my name. But then, when I did get my name, I had become so prominent with that band until Basie said, “oh, this is the fabulous one — Fab.” And that is my name today, they call me “Fab” but that comes from Count Basie who started calling me fabulous because I could go out and get standing ovations every night, every night. Standing ovations, until this became a big part of Count Basie’s band, until when we’d go out where we’d have Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, that meant that Count Basie’s band didn’t have no chance to play, but opening number, a middle number, and like the featured drum number, and then they would bring Ella on and then Frank. This is where it was always sad moments, too, because here you have all these great musicians sitting there playing the music for the singers, you see? And they never got that good, and had no opportunity to express themselves. And I know many won’t even take a day or two to talk about this but I’ve gone far enough in life that I feel as though I do have that privilege to speak about that because in a sense in music that would be a no-no, all these different things that come on with bands. I myself, after joining, we recorded that day and then a few days later we go to England, and here this is still the days where they didn’t have that many baths in the hotels, but we still stayed like in the clean hotels and things. And we could really completely tell the difference of the treatment.

MW: In other words, you were treated differently in Europe?

AG: Completely different. You was treated like an artist. Like artists are supposed to be treated. And they would roll out the royal carpet to you and you was treated that way. And you was accepted that way. Well, I myself, leaving the United States, it was a long time in my belief, gee, how is it this much of a difference, you see? And again, a lot of this that I am speaking about, wasn’t permissible a few years ago to even make statements. But here this is to the Hamilton College, and I would want the students and everything to know what you have come here to talk about, okay? But for myself, when I first got over there, there was no music written out for me. And that just drove me crazy after playing solos night after night and a lot of them with Dizzy Gillespie. Now I come in to Count Basie’s band, and there’s no music written for me.

MW: So he had to do much of the music by memory?

AG: Well on that particular tour, the musicians had been in the band so long they only took three books with them. And that was Snooky’s book, Lockjaw’s book, and my book. And they saved all this money for not taking all the rest of these books. It used to run into big costs, you know. And here I am buried in the music, now I want to solo so bad, ‘cause Joe Newman just went out there and he just performed like ever. And here’s Sonny Payne and Frank Wess and me, and Henry Coker who was a trombone player, and Benny Powell. Now I get no chance to play, nothing, nothing.

MW: Was there any etiquette by which you could kind of go to Basie and say, hey, you know, I want you to throw me a solo here?

AG: Well, it boiled down to where I felt as though that coming from Dizzy I should get a few bars. So one day we were in line, this is when you had to jump off the bus and run in and get in line because you know that the bath is going to run out. So that means that you’re going to have to go down the hall to get a bath. So this particular day I jumped off and run in and I get in line and here I am, the new boy and everything, and everybody was always jumping in front of me because I was the new boy. So you’re the new boy and you’d better recognize it and accept it if you’re going to stay in that band. And so this day I was getting ready to sign in for this band, and Marshall Royal ran in and said “Royal” and, he was the Straw Boss, and they gave him this last bath. And I just went off in the lobby of this hotel. I just went to hollering and screaming and cussing and going on. And of course you know this is a no-no, you know you’re not supposed to do like that in the Queen Hotel, and because I was completely so uptight from not playing any solos. And you’d pick up the paper the next day and they’re talking about Marshall and Snooky and all these guys that did all this last night, and you don’t see your name or anything like that because you hadn’t did anything, see? And so he got this last bath and I just went off because I was so upset from not playing. But Count Basie was sitting in the corner over there. He would always wait until last because you know he had his suite coming and everything like that. And he finally got my attention and he beckoned me and he says “come over here.” And I says, well I said “I was in line and I was correct to get my bath and he just stepped in front of me.” And Basie said “well he’s Straw Boss, you know how they are.” And he tried to calm me down. But I went in to saying “well look, I don’t know why you hired me because I come over here and you won’t let me play anything.” And this is when he came up and I had never heard him cuss or anything like that but he came up with a cuss word, and said “one minute — you just got here. Now when we get back to New York, we’re going to fix up music and everything for you, but you just got here and so we can’t do nothing about it and this is not an old jam band and so we’re not going to have no jam session,” and he says “but you know I like you, and I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to let you come down and have a bath in my room and there’s an extra room over here, the suite, and you can stay there tonight.” And this is like he became like my father. Because then I would listen to everything he had to say.

Basie’s promise to Al would soon be realized. Check out this rare Count Basie piece for a marvelous track featuring them both.

Our three-part series on Basie will wrap up in the next installment with stories and reminiscing about the great Joe Williams, Basie’s number one son.